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Sachs: Two logical ways to achieve a sustainable energy future

01 October 2012
Sachs: Two logical ways to achieve a sustainable energy future

NEW YORK: Experts in energy and finance met to discuss a sustainable energy future at the Climate Week NYC event, “Opportunities in the Coming Era of Sustainable Energy,” which was concluded with a distinguished lecture from world-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs, where he called for a break from the status quo in US energy policy.

Ethan Zindler, Head of Policy Analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance moderated the discussion, asking the panelists’ thoughts on the current state of clean energy and expectations for its future.

Economic opportunity

James Cameron, Chairman of Climate Change Capital spoke firstly of how clean energy can “stimulate the economy, while still addressing vital environmental issues,” and pointed out that it is “becoming genuinely robust across various jurisdictions.” He suggested that the biggest areas of opportunity are in solar, smart grids, green buildings and transport.

Kyung-Ah Park, Managing Director and Head of the Environmental Markets Group at Goldman Sachs pointed to the bank’s commitment to invest $40 billion in clean energy over the next decade. The target, she said, comes despite the fact that “emerging markets can be volatile,” because the expectation is that they “will soon ramp up,” mentioning how the cost of solar power has halved in the past year, leading to cost parity in some regions.

Energy innovation

Steve Corneli, Senior Vice President of Sustainability, Strategy and Policy at NRG Energy discussed how green innovation is becoming more mainstream, citing the recent efficiency and clean energy retrofit of the Empire State Building. “We are seeing tremendous innovation in energy management and retail marketing, consumer engagement, and much better investment and policy support,” Corneli said.

Bill Tyndall, Senior Vice President of the Strategy, Policy and Regulatory Group at Duke Energy explained the major shift away from coal that is expected in the US as a result of low natural gas prices and emerging regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

On the subject of natural gas, James Cameron commented that the difference between the US and Europe is that US politicians see it as a "game-changing, great discovery," but he cautioned that over-enthusiasm could lead to “accidents, and too much money thrown at it.”

The panelists all agreed on the need for a clear, predictable policy framework in order for growth in clean energy markets to continue. “Whether it is a cap and trade system variant, which would be best, or a tax, or combination of the two, we must have some kind of pricing mechanism,” Cameron said.

Logical solutions

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Colombia University, closed the session with a call on US policymakers to adopt an energy plan that addresses climate change. “We’ve just had the worst drought in modern history, that has done great damage to the corn crops, and now food prices are soaring. And how many mentions have there been in the presidential campaign? Maybe one.” Sachs said, blaming politicians' “willful neglect” on “terror at hands of lobbyists.”

“Here we are in the middle of this disaster… and we can’t even talk about it.”

On solutions, Sachs said there are two options, which should be pursued in tandem. “We either need to use energy sources that are not fossil fuels. So that could be renewables such as wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear. Or if we use fossil fuels, we need to clean up after ourselves with CCS. These are the two logical chains.”

Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University, talks about future climate challenges, at Climate Week NYC 2012

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